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Local WWII veteran recalls time spent on USS Key

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Pat Ketcham

At the age of 17, Pat Ketcham volunteered to serve his country along with 750,000 other Texans during World War II.

Ketcham is one of the World War II veterans in Kleberg County and Bishop who will be honored at 10:45 a.m. on Nov. 10, at First Baptist Church Kingsville. The church is searching for living World War II veterans in the area. To submit names and addresses of living World War II veterans, contact the church office at (361) 592-3344 or

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, fewer than 400,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II remain alive in 2019. In Texas 28,811 of the 750,000 soldiers who served were living in 2018.

Ketcham knew, even as a young man, that he wanted to serve his country when he stepped up before the draft. 

“My parents had to give written permission for me to serve in the Navy,” the 93-year-old Kingsville resident said. “I knew I would be drafted so I told my parents I wanted the best opportunity to learn some skills while serving in the Navy that I could use when I got out of the Navy.”

When Ketcham joined the military, it was especially hard on his mother because his older brother, Ralph Ketcham, was already serving in the Marine Corps.

Pat Ketcham, who was raised in Santa Rosa, Texas, and in August 1943 boarded a train to Houston where he and other South Texans officially enlisted. From there they rode another train to San Diego, Calif., where they attended boot camp.

“It was tough on me being a young country farm boy,” he said. 

He housed with 100 other sailors as they prepared for the coming days’ activities. “In boot camp we marched and did calisthenics every day; and we had to wash a complete set of clothes each evening and hang clothes on the line,” Ketcham said. 

Once he completed boot camp, Ketcham was sent to St. Paul, Minn., to attend a two-month electrical school at the University of Minnesota. The South Texas native experienced his first snowstorm in St. Paul, where he saw that large piles of melting snow would freeze and remained after he left two months later.

While attending electrical school, officials inquired if any of the sailors could play the bugle. Ketcham had been a member of a Drum and Bugle Corps and played the trumpet in high school. He volunteered to play reveille, retreat, flag raising, and “Taps” during his time at electrical school.  

Ketcham received orders to train and serve as an apprentice on the electric power generation at Consolidated Edison Power Plant, or Con Edison, in New York City. He was stationed at the Navy Receiving Station located on Pier 92 along the Hudson River. They were bused to and from Con Edison each day. 

“After training and observations at Con Edison’s plant in New York, I was sent to Norfolk, Va., where they were assembling a crew to man a ship being built in Orange, Texas,” Ketcham said.  The ship was one of about 500 Destroyer Escorts (DE) designed to protect troop and cargo ships from German submarine attacks.

During the early stages of World War II, many U.S. ships crossing the Atlantic were sunk before reaching the war zone. The Destroyer Escorts were equipped with three torpedo tubes, two 5-inch, two 40 mm anti-aircraft and several 20 mm gun mounts. The Destroyer Escorts were equipped with a sensitive anti-submarine sound detection system and several depth charges, which could be set to explode on submarines below at any desired depth. Ketcham served on the USS Key (DE 348) that was launched in February 1944. The captain of the ship was Lt. Comdr. F. D. Buckley. 

“After our shakedown cruise, we patrolled the north Atlantic for several weeks and took part in a large convoy of troop and cargo vessels to Italy in the Mediterranean Sea,” Ketcham said. The transport of troops and goods was successful without a loss.  

The USS Key then left for the South Pacific.  Most of the efforts in the South Pacific included patrolling the seas for enemy submarines and escorting convoys for their protection. The ship bombarded some Japanese Island fuel supply stations. 

“We dropped a number of depth charges on submarine contacts during all of our tours but were unable to confirm actual destruction of the enemy vessels as they normally sink to the bottom,” Ketcham said.

The USS Key was 306 feet long, with a 36-foot, 8-inch beam. Its draft was 9 feet and 5 inches and could travel at a speed of 24 knots or 25 mph. It had 14 officers and 201 enlisted men. Ketcham was part of the electrical team that kept the generators running to supply power the entire day. He would work a shift schedule that included four hours on and four hours off on the electrical switchboard in the forward engine room when the ship was under way. In the four-hour off period other electrical work had to be performed. The forward engine room controlled the fresh water supply for the ship.

Ketcham remembers vividly when the Japanese surrendered. He was at the U.S. Naval Base in Subic Bay on the west coast of the Island of Luzon in the Philippines watching a movie on the fantail of the ship. He recalled that there was a lot of celebration that night. 

“Our ship headed back to the United Stated about a month later, and we picked up a lot of sailors and other military personnel who were qualified for discharge,” he said.

After a short assignment at the Navy base in New Orleans, Ketcham was discharged at Camp Wallace on May 16, 1946.

Ketcham married his sweetheart, Montie, on June 30, 1946. They have been married for 73 years. 

“We have two beautiful daughters, Kathy and Sandy, which between them provided us with four grandchildren and four great grandchildren,” Monite Ketcham said. “We’ve been so fortunate, God has blessed us more than I can say.” 

Pat worked for a short period at the Central Power and Light Power Plant in San Benito, Texas, and for his father’s painting business in Harlingen, Texas. His mother was a schoolteacher and was always pushing him to attend college.

Ketcham attended Texas A&I College (now Texas A&M University-Kingsville) in Kingsville, graduating cum laude in 1951 with a degree in petroleum and national gas engineering. 

He went to work after graduation for Humble Oil and Refining Co., now Exxon Mobil Corp. He worked in many areas of Exxon Mobil operations in the U.S. and a short tour of duty in Australia and Abu Dhabi. 

He spent most of his career working in South Texas retiring after 35 years with the company as operations manager of the South Texas Division.

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